Many Bethlehem Steel workers who did their part to aid the Cold War cause by rolling uranium for some of the nation's first nuclear weapons have been diagnosed with cancer. Many have died at a premature age, leaving families to struggle on without them.
Some of those who were sickened by the radiation exposure have received federal compensation of up to $150,000 through the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. But hundreds of others who were similarly sickened have received nothing.
Such is the case in a system that appears to be neither moral nor fair.
The workers in Bethlehem's 10-inch bar mill in Lackawanna rolled radioactive uranium from 1949 to 1952. Employees and their families from that time period were, and continue to be, eligible for federal money for their radiation exposure.
But the radioactive dust and other by-product particles from that operation weren't completely eliminated until 1976, when Bethlehem replaced its 10-inch bar mill. As noted by News reporter Jerry Zremski, shovels and brooms were used to clean up a shut-down uranium processing operation in 1952 that today would likely require lead-lined hazmat suits.
Unfortunately for hundreds of Bethlehem Steel employees who worked at the plant's bar mill after 1952, they are ineligible to receive any federal money for their radiation exposure, though it appears that these men make up an unusual cancer cluster.
To what extent bar mill steelworkers after 1952 were harmed by radiation is unknown because no one wants to take on the responsibility of studying the health of these men, even though organizations like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are empowered to do so.
We're heartened that U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Brian Higgins are continuing their work to see that these overlooked workers and their families get something back for all they've given up. They initially asked federal agencies to look into the matter last year, but got nowhere.
In the latest letter from all three to administrators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they stated, "Your failure to consider the immediacy of this request, particularly in light of the bureaucratic plight that these retired steelworkers, their families and survivors have already gone through, is gravely troubling ... We urge you to meet with the workers as soon as possible to discuss their first-hand accounts of what working conditions were actually like at the facility."
We couldn't have said it better.